Four brothers in arms

PROUD MUM: John Woodhams' wife Barbara

WARTIME SERVICE: Peter Woodhams as an RAF leading aircraftman in the war

CHANCE MEETING: The Woodhams brothers George, left, and Frank pictured when they met by chance in Cairo in 1945

FAMILY MAN: George Woodhams with his wife Florrie in 1940. He kept this photograph with him all through the war

FRESH FACED: John Victor Woodhams as he looked in the 1902 group photograph

First published in Dales Diary
Last updated
The Northern Echo: Photograph of the Author by

JOHN Victor Woodhams was a fresh-faced telegraph boy in a 1902 photograph of dale postal workers printed in this column some weeks ago.

Since then we have been able to fast-forward to his interesting family life.

He married Barbara Milne at Hartlepool when he was 20 in 1905 and they had five sons, four of whom served in the Second World War. The boys were Peter, George, Frank, Charlie and Maurice, who all became well known in Teesdale.

Peter drove a steam roller for the council on roads around Barnard Castle before serving as a leading aircraftman the RAF during the war.

George worked as a railway booking office clerk at Willington before going into the Royal Signals during the hostilities.

Frank trained as a dental practitioner in Barnard Castle before he went into war action with the Royal Army Medical Corps.

And Charlie, a joiner at Smiths' Grove Works, marched into service with the Royal Artillery. Maurice would have served king and country gladly too if he had not suffered from polio, which affected his whole life.

George and Frank served in different war zones until they met up by chance in Cairo in March 1945. They had a few days together visiting pyramids and mosques, plus a 17 mile trip up the River Nile.

They were photographed together there before their units went separate ways in North Africa and Italy. But later they just missed each other in one Italian town.

Their father, who was a well-respected postman in Barnard Castle until he reached retirement age during the war, had every right to be proud of the service given by his four sons.

He and Barbara lived in Newgate, Barnard Castle. All this information about the family, and the photographs, have come from the couple's great grandson, Mark Woodhams, who saw the group photograph in Dales Diary and recognised the young telegraph boy in the front row.

"It was a wonderful surprise to see him in the picture," said Mark, a railway pensions administrator who lives in Darlington.

Once back in Civvy Street Peter returned to his council duties.

George went back to the railways and gave lengthy service, a tradition which has been continued by his son and grandson.

Frank gave up dental work to join a major bank in London.

Charlie went back to being a joiner. One of his tasks was to make coffins - and he sometimes declared, perhaps as a joke, that he had prepared a special comfortable one for himself.

Maurice was employed in a tax office in Darlington, and despite his polio handicap enjoyed taking part in several sports.

A SAD story has just emerged about a sixth Teesdale postal worker killed in the First World War in addition to five named on a roll of honour.

Joseph Wilkinson left a wife, Beatrice, and five children when he died in action in Northern France in April 1918.

He was a private in the 10th Battalion East Yorkshire Regiment after joining the army reserve in December 1915 at the age of 32.

He was mobilised in December 1916 and sent to France in early 1917 but returned to Britain later that year.

He would have some leave in that period, with a chance to visit his family in Barnard Castle before going back to France on March 30 1918.

He was mortally wounded 13 days later when his battalion was fighting to hold a line against the Germans at Merris, a French village near the Belgian border.

Sixty men of his battalion died, and he was among 53 of them who have no known grave.

He and the other 52 are commemorated on an impressive war memorial at Ploegsteert in Belgium. It honours troops with no known resting places.

He was listed as missing at first before his death was confirmed. The news would be a devasting blow for Beatrice and the children: Louisa 11, John 9, Thomas 6, Oliver 22 months and Brenda 11 months. They lived in Guys Cottage, Barnard Castle.

Joseph, who had a spell as a railway fireman as well as doing post office work, had lived earlier at the Red Well Inn.

His brother John was landlord of the hostelry at the time of the tragedy. Their sister, Catherine Hunter, lived in Victoria Terrace in the town.

John's father, also called John Wilkinson, was an earlier licensee of the Red Well and was a notable horse breeder who won prizes regularly at Bowes and Eggleston shows.

Initial facts about Joseph's death were uncovered by Andy Denholm. Further details were traced by postal historian David Charlesworth, who said the sixth name would now be added to the roll of honour listing the other five postmen who died.

The roll is now on display at the mail delivery office, a short walk from the Red Well Inn. His details are also being written into the dale's postal history.

SOME dale teachers had a reputation in the past for over-vigorous use of the cane.

Many boys have tales about masters who were inclined to be heavy handed with their whackings, but this seemed to be accepted as part of school life.

However, there was a feeling that one schoolmistress, Minnie Chisholm of Spennymoor, went too far with her cane back in 1883.

She was so fierce one day that she ended up in court charged with ill treating a pupil, Thomas Smith.

His mother complained that she found blood oozing from his fingers, and a police inspector said he saw 20 marks on the boy's knuckles and elsewhere.

So was the teacher guilty? The magistrate, the Reverend GP Wilkinson, declared that the punishment was not beyond reasonable correction so he dismissed the charge.

The strict clergyman apparently felt young Thomas deserved all he got. Scholars had to be well behaved or really tough in those bad old days.

IT was common to see tramps wandering all over Weardale, Teesdale and other rural areas over a century ago. But there were fewer of them around on Sundays.

Those gentlemen of the road were not good for the image of any area, especially if there were too many of them at one time.

Some were dirty and untidy, and they could be a nuisance if they called at houses, or stopped people in the street, asking for food or money.

So in the 1880s when they checked in for a bed in workhouses on Fridays or Saturdays, efforts were made to keep them there on Sundays.

Officials explained at Barnard Castle workhouse that the aim was to keep vagrants off the streets and highways on Sundays. After all, residents going to church or having a peaceful walk on their day off did not want to be faced with grubby old strangers.

The official reason was that after being allowed in for a free bed and meal the tramps had to carry out some work before leaving.

There was no system for giving them work on a Sunday, so they had to stay and do their task on a Monday.

Some protested that if they stayed on a Friday night they could do a task on Saturday and then be allowed to leave, but that wasn't accepted.

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